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'Not in our plans': NHL shoots down expansion report

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI AGENCY)

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI AGENCY)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:08 PM ET

To think Toronto will get a second NHL franchise is definitely a viable option down the road.

But to say it is imminent is very premature, according to those in the know.

“I can say 100% that (NHL expansion) is not on the agenda,” MLSEL CEO Tim Leiweke, who admitted speaking to NHL general manager Gary Bettman earlier in the day, told the FAN590 on Wednesday morning.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly echoed those sentiments, shooting down a tweet by Howard Bloom of @SportsBizNews late Tuesday night suggested that the NHL will expand by four teams by 2017, including franchises in Quebec City, Seattle, Las Vegas and, interestingly, a second team in the GTA. According to the tweet, the league would get a total of $1.4 billion US in expansion fees.

Another report, this one from Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province, indicated that a Vegas franchise is a done deal, especially with shovels having gone into the ground on a 20,000-seat arena in Sin City earlier this year.

If you buy what Daly is selling, there is nothing to all this talk.

“Not in our plans. Nothing new to report on expansion,” Daly told TVA Sports.

There has been plenty of speculation regarding the NHL’s desire to add two teams in the west to add balance to its two conferences. At this time, there are 16 teams in the east and 14 in the east.

On paper, that would be the stumbling block to Quebec City, which otherwise has all the pieces in place for a team including a state-of-the-art arena. The return of the team there does not seem to be an issue of “if,” but “when.”

As for Toronto, the roadblocks that continuously have come up in the proposed Markham arena have insiders feeling that a more logical setup, if Toronto was to get a second franchise, would see it play at the Air Canada Centre.

Would MLSE be open to a second tenant at the ACC? Given that it’s majority owners are communications giants Bell and Rogers, a second Toronto team would mean more hockey coverage on their respective networks. And that would translate into more money.


TIME LAPSE OF NHL EXPANSION 


During a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade back on June 25, Leiweke said MLSE had not blocked the concept of having another team in the GTA.

“We have just one vote,” Leiweke said at the time.

As for the proposed Markham arena, Leiweke claimed MLSE’s only issue was the alleged economics of the new building.

Still, if you listen to Daly and Leiweke, there is nothing immediate on the expansion front. In the meantime, you can bet a second Toronto franchise would not go over well down the QEW in Buffalo, where Sabres owner Terry Pegula relies on an influx of Canadian fans from across the border to help fill his seats.

In Seattle, despite reports that billionaire Victor Coleman and Seattle-based Chris Hansen allegedly have a deal in place regarding NHL expansion, there is no arena. All the while, it is common knowledge that local politicians are more interested in bringing an NBA franchise back to the city rather than an NHL franchise.

Interestingly, Bettman did leave the door open for future expansion while reportedly scouting Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as sites for future outdoor games last year.

“There’s a lot of interest (in expansion),” told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune at the time. “We’re hearing from multiple groups in Seattle . . . and in Vegas, in Kansas City and Quebec City.

“We haven’t decided to engage in formal expansion process, but as we always do, we listen to expressions of interest. There may be good reasons to expand, there may not be. It’s not something we’ve seriously considered yet.”

We’ll see.


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